Eugenio Pio "Pete" Seghesio, patriarch of one of Sonoma County's best-known wine families, died Sept. 30 at a hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif., after a long illness. He was 85.
Seghesio was the youngest and last surviving child of Italian immigrants Angela and Eduardo Seghesio, the founders of Seghesio Family Vineyards. He had been in declining health in recent months, suffering from congestive heart failure and several strokes.
"He was a tough son of a gun," Pete Seghesio Jr., now general manager of the winery, said of his father. "I remember going with him on cold calls to Julio Gallo. He didn't have an appointment. We just showed up, and we always got to see him. He was a pisser, but he loved this business."
Seghesio's career in the wine business spanned six decades. He was born on April 27, 1919, on the family's home ranch near Geyserville, in an area that locals at the time called Chianti. He joined the family winery in 1941, before leaving to fight in World War II, and was president from 1965 to 1995, presiding over much of the winery's transition from a generic bulk producer to the premium producer of Zinfandel that it is today. The family still farms some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in California.
"He loved Zinfandel. He called it the 'boss grape,'" his son said.
Evolving with the times was not always easy for the conservative Seghesio. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the third generation -- including winemaker Ted Seghesio, Seghesio's nephew -- pushed for drastic change, buying new equipment, improving winemaking, cutting production and concentrating the brand primarily on Zinfandel.
It was a risky move but ultimately placed Seghesio on the top rung of Sonoma County winemaking.
"He couldn't believe sometimes that we were selling wine above $10 a bottle and were successful," Seghesio Jr. said. Ultimately, the elder Seghesio came around to the idea.
Seghesio was also active in the Wine Institute, a trade organization, serving as a director from 1948 until 1972.
Seghesio is also survived by his wife of 48 years, Rachel Ann, his daughter Amy Camille Seghesio and two grandsons.
Services will be at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church at Asti at 10 a.m. on Oct. 5, followed by the burial and a reception at the winery in Healdsburg. Donations can be made in Seghesio's name to St. John's School in Healdsburg and the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at the University of California, Davis.
Read more about the Seghesio family:
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